'Do you think that anyone will actually be able to agree on anything this time?'
Natsuki cast Hiromi a slightly chiding look, one that was more fond than anything. Deep down she shared her dislike of these kind of meetings. Which wasn't to say they didn't have their uses. 'Probably not. But that's not what we are hear for really, is it? True, we are likely to mostly just hear arguments and bickering and reasons why what I need is more important than what you need. But you know as well as I this is good way to see which way the wind is blowing.'
'Mostly, I think it's blowing a lot of hot air our way.' Hiromi sighed.
'You know, from anyone else I would have to say that was insubordination.'
Hiromi turned with a deadpan expression to face the grey furred stallion that had walked up behind them. 'Well, put me on a charge then.'
'I would. But then I'd have to put myself on one as well.' The stallion laughed. 'Which could get tricky in all kinds of ways.'
'And here I thought you thrived on tricky.' Natsuki joined in. 'How have you been, Sliva?'
'Much the same.' Silva shrugged. 'Seems we are always running into each other at meetings these days. Makes me miss the days we met out in the field.'
'Well, we both have more responsibilities these days.' Hiromi replied. 'Doesn't mean I don't miss those days either. Of course, with the way things are going, we could both end up back in the field.'
'Yes, I heard about the..incidents you have been investigating.' Silva took a seat slowly. 'I'd love to discuss them once this meeting is done.'
'I'd love for them to be discussed at this meeting.' Hiromi countered, a counter not directed at her friend.
'Please, please. Be seated.' That request came from the slender framed gopher that took the seat at the head of the table. Not that a circular table really has a head. Something they resolved here by setting this one in a little, perfectly nestled in a purpose made alcove that did at least serve to draw attention to her. Not that she needed help with that given the golden stripe that ran through her fur, matching the braid on her uniform. 'I won't keep you longer than I have too. I'd like to pick up where we finished last time, with an update on the readiness of our forces. So far, the base expansion and upgrade program is perfectly on schedule. The Base at Hysta Sands has been completed, and the aerodromes at Lowfields and Scarlet Pass are to be finished within the month. Soon all three will be up to the modern specifications.'
'Which means we will be turning our attention to upgrading the bases in the capital.' Silva said. 'Starting with Sky Spire?'
'As agreed. Once we have fully tested the upgrades after they have been installed. But I foresee no problems. Unless you have a..different opinion to offer.'
'It's hard to deny the logic in it, General Tull. Sky Spire is the oldest, its true. But it is also supported by the Cardinal Spires. Built only two years ago. Practically as modern as can be. Where as Longreach and Highreach are only suitable as infantry bases. With an upgrade they could easily be modified to accommodate vehicles as well. Greatly improving the cities ability to defend itself.'
'Defend itself?' Tull asked. 'May I ask what you think we need defence against here? What could possibly attack us here? No. I think you are wrong. For generations, we have relied upon our Outer defences. And they have always served us. I'll will not turn away from that.'
'We have already been attacked.' Hiromi said shortly. 'Or perhaps that slipped your attention so focused as it was outside the city.'
'Do not think my attention is anywhere but on the city.' Tull said evenly. 'I know the events you refer too. I just dispute your description of them as attacks. I hear you have been investigating these events. Tell me, have you found any military connection to any of the perpetrators? Any sign of military backing or support from a foreign power? Any sign of a military structure to this at all.'
'Not yet. But the investigation is still in the early days.' Hiromi replied.
'Exactly. Which is not enough to assume we are under attack. For all you know, this could simply be the actions of a few lone wolves seeking to cause trouble. Now, I do not dispute these events are troubling. Far from it. But they are also a far cry from an actual attack.' Tull continued. 'As I see it, this matter is a enforcement issue, not a military one. I'm not stopping your investigation. I've passed all the details to all law enforcement agencies and the Central Intelligence Department, the latter of which will be liaising with you to share information.'
For just a second, Hiromi was tempted to keep pressing her point. And it was a long second too. But that didn't stop her pressing down on her instinct. Maybe the slow game was the better way to go here. Certainly if it allowed her to continue her investigation. Which was the most important thing anyway. 'I appreciate that General.'
'Well, I suppose that could have been worse.' Hiromi sighed as soon as the glass doors closed behind them.
'You didn't really expect them to see things as you did, did you?' Silva leaned against the wall of the lift carrying the pair down to the lobby. 'This generation of officers are peace time officers. They've never known a real war. Small skirmishes and police actions, that is their only experience of war. Too entrenched in that idea, they see nothing beyond their own advancement and careers. Now military service is just a stepping stone to more power, the true meaning of service forgotten.'
'It's not like I've seen much more than them. Not since I was a fresh faced cadet graduate.' Hiromi said with a wry smile.
'Hardly fresh faced. And let's not forget how you distinguished yourself during that campaign. So, yes, I think you have seen more than them.' Silva said.
'Doesn't mean I know what to do now.' Hiromi replied.
'You are doing what you need to do.' Silva replied. 'Once this threat reveals itself, your team will be in place to deal with it. That is the most important thing you, or anyone, can do.'
Hiromi's gaze stayed fixed on the shape that clung to the shadows like a cloak, that clinging darkness hiding almost all features apart from the glowing eyes that still looked very eerie even though she was used to seeing them. Focused as she might be on the closest, that didn't mean she wasn't aware of the others moving up behind it. Even from this far back, she felt a little trickle of anxiety run down her spine, old combat reflexes rising almost unbidden. Odd that, given that she wasn't even the one fighting.
'Are you sure that she is ready for this?' Natsuki asked calmly.
'Isn't that what we are here to find out?' Hiromi's eyes didn't move from the creatures now moving to surround Alice and her team. 'It's just a training exercise though. Not like she is in real danger.'
'True.' Natsuki admitted. 'I suppose that's not the real question, is it? It's if she thinks she is ready for this.'
'It's hardly the first time she has been injured in the field.' Hiromi reminded. 'The doctors have cleared her duty, so I'm not worried. No, I more want to see how they work together. They are going to see real combat soon enough, so I want to see how they perform.'
'Ilya and Koum of course will be fine.' Natsuki replied. 'They have all worked together before. It's Mellissa and Arty we don't really know about, do we? Not that I don't think they can fit in. But then again, I don't he much to judge that on.'
'I don't think there will be any problems.' Hiromi said, leaning a little closer to the pane of glass that separated them from the training ground where even now the team had engaged their enemy. 'Both Arty and Mellissa are skilled soldiers. Not from our military perhaps, but they do have a stake in this as well. So, I think they will do well under Alice's command.'
'I guess we will find out.' Natsuki said quietly.
Alicia's gaze stayed fixed on the shape that clung to the shadows like a cloak, that clinging darkness hiding almost all features apart from the glowing eyes that still looked very eerie even though she was used to seeing them. Focused as she might be on the closest, that didn't mean she wasn't aware of the other shapes moving up behind it with the same cold focus. Even after all the times she had fought them, she still couldn't help that little tingle of anxiety. But anxiety she was used too.
Which privately was a relief. While she hated keeping secrets from Hiromi, part of her couldn't quite muster up the courage to say how much being stabbed had actually rattled her. Only a little maybe, but she couldn't deny it had left her on edge. Maybe it was the unexpectedness of it, the way a situation she had thought she had been in control of had spiralled out of control. What did she know, she wasn't a psychologist. And she sure as hell wasnt going to get her head examined. Not when she had the fear under control herself. Fear was nothing new on the battlefield. She had mastered it before. And she would again.
'Arty, Mellissa flank right. Kuom, go left. Ilya, covering fire.' Alice called out. 'Tie them up. Go. And no, I haven't forgotten about you two.'
That last cool statement put pay to the remark building in Drake's throat, Alice already having picked up on the telltale rumble of disapproval. 'When they attack, some are going to break away to try and flank us. You know how these things think. So when they do, make things hot for them.'
'Got it.' Fireheart had barely replied for them both before Alice was completely proved right, two of their foes darting away to try and break past the guard of Mellissa and Arty. To their credit, they actually managed to do that. Even if they only managed to cross about five steps before Drake and Fireheart literally rained down fire on them, two concentrated bursts of flame that ripped them apart to shower the pair of dragons with protoplasmic goo.
'Yuck. I really hate this stuff.' Drake grumbled, flicking his tail in frustration. 'Now I'm going to need a shower.'
'Price we pay for being so efficient.' Fireheart fist-bumped his friend's shoulder affectionally. 'And we took them out. So what are you complaining about.'
'See. She is ready.' Hiromi said with a delicate smile as Alice lead her team out of the training zone.
'Is she?' Natsuki countered. 'Are any of us? We don't even really know what we are up against here. Do we?'
'I admit, their motives don't make sense.' Hiromi said thoughtfully. 'They are attacking like a terrorist cell. Only they haven't struck any high profile targets. Or even struck that regularly. Doesn't mean we can't counter them when they do. It's really all we can do. I have faith in them to do what counts when it counts. That's why I chose them.'
Hiromi let her gaze linger on the assembled soldiers below, her soldiers. Her team. The team she built and trusted. 'We have all we need to counter this threat. And they will counter it. Together.